Whether we are talking about the Internet, cell phones, or televisions, technology has shaped our world. From the introduction of social media platforms that help people communicate and connect with each other to the development of new technologies that allow us to make money online, technology has impacted society in many ways. It has also brought new ethical questions to light.
The term technology is often defined as the invention or application of knowledge to reach a practical goal. However, it is important to understand that technology is not a science. It is a creative endeavor that is designed to bring the world closer to a desired state. In making technology, people actively participate in the definition of the desired state.
Aristotle’s doctrine of the four causes is an early contribution to the philosophy of technology. The first two of these causes refer to the necessity and specificities of a given task, while the third refers to the nature of the material from which the tool is made. The doctrine remains relevant in modern discussions of the metaphysics of artifacts.
Another early theme is that technology learns from nature. This concept was popularized by the ancient Greek philosopher Democritus, who claimed that building houses imitated nature. Aristotle acknowledged this idea, but he was careful not to claim that technology could only imitate nature. He wrote in Physics II.8, “Nature teaches things, but it is not a law.”
In the nineteenth century, the critical attitude was the predominant philosophical reflection on technology. Representatives of this attitude were schooled in the social sciences, including humanities, and had little or no first-hand knowledge of engineering practice. In contrast, instrumentalists tend to portray technology as a narrow, technical rationality.
Technologists tend to focus on the way in which technology is applied to scientific truths. Those who apply science via technology must reason through constraints and behaviors in particular circumstances. They often argue that governments are the best people to address problems in society, and that technology should be a tool of the government.
Technology has a large impact on the environment. In the 1970s, critics began to point out the ecological impact of new technologies. More recently, the environmental impact of cryptocurencies has been a major concern. As more computing resources are devoted to mining, cryptocurencies have become a significant environmental hazard.
The role of technology in our lives is growing. It has helped to create advanced economies and develop the leisure class. Yet, it has also brought about unexpected avenues of crime and financial fraud. In dystopian literature, such as Brave New World, technology is a villain.
As the term technology comes to mean different things to different people, it is important to understand what it means and how it works. Understanding the nuance and complexity of technology is crucial for understanding the broader impacts of technological change.
In addition to the impact of technology on the environment, new technologies can also disrupt social hierarchies, create forces of change from unexpected places, and harm individuals and groups. Whether we are talking about biotechnology or nanotechnology, new technology has the potential to affect society in profound and unpredictable ways.